Social, Digital and Mobile in Thailand

Simon Kemp

For today’s Social, Digital and Mobile in Asia report report, we’re going to contrast two Southeast Asian neighbours: Thailand and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma):



The populations of the two countries are still predominantly rural, but they’ve adopted the internet in very different ways.

Thailand’s youth in particular are seizing the opportunities that the internet brings them, and as with their other Southeast Asian neighbours, much of this activity flow through mobile devices. Research from Nielsen indicates that 36% of Thai internet users access the web via mobile devices, but this ratio is considerably higher amongst younger demographic groups.

This is perhaps unsurprising in light of mobile statistics; Thailand’s mobile penetration rate is in excess of 100%, but nearly three quarters of Thai mobile subscribers are under the age of 24.

Overall internet penetration sits at just 27% of the population, but data suggest that those who use the internet prefer it above all other media. For example, Thailand’s internet users spend more than 50% more time online than they do watching television.

Social networking is one of the most popular online activities, with 85% of all netizens visiting social media sites at least once per week. Watching video follows close behind, with 82% of net users streaming or downloading video content each month.

The Thais are also Southeast Asia’s biggest gamers, with 60% of internet users playing online games several times each week.

The picture in neighbouring Myanmar is remarkably different though.

The internet is highly regulated by the ruling junta, and access to many sites is either blocked or restricted.

Tellingly, Myanmar is one of only a handful of countries in the world that advertisers cannot target on Facebook. This list has become ever shorter in recent months, but Myanmar (along with North Korea) is still unavailable in the self-serve options, even though the Yemen has recently appeared as an option.

However, the internet situation inside the country isn’t quite as bleak as it might appear from the outside.

Local observers suggest that many of those who wish to access the internet often find ways to do so – mostly through the country’s large network of internet cafés.

Despite the fact that the majority of these access points are regulated by the government, many Burmese still manage to create and maintain a Facebook account, and anecdotal evidence suggests that around 80% of Myanmar’s internet users have an account on the world’s largest social network.

However, this is still only 80% of a very small base, and while accurate figures are hard to come by, even optimistic estimates suggest that penetration levels are stuck around the 1% mark.

This may be due in large part to the general lack of telecommunications infrastructure in the country, where, like mobile phones, fixed line penetration also struggles to achieve 1% penetration.

This looks set to change in 2012, however, as the country’s mobile phone infrastructure evolves.

Our opinion is that improved access to more advanced mobile devices will help accelerate internet adoption, although access will still be through basic feature phones.

Observers within the country predict similar trends, with suggesting the number of internet users will triple over the next couple of years.

Whether this ‘digital revolution’ has broader implications remains to be seen, but the future certainly looks brighter for those with an appetite for the internet.